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Death Threats Over Rhino

DSC forges ahead with auction for Namibia permit

A proposed auction for a permit to hunt black rhinos elicited death threats to Dallas Safari Club members. (Courtesy Wikipedia/Brocken Inaglory) A proposed auction for a permit to hunt black rhinos elicited death threats to Dallas Safari Club members. (Courtesy Wikipedia/Brocken Inaglory)

By: Steve Wagner, Special to

DALLAS — Against a torrent of death threats, the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) is forging ahead with plans to auction a black rhino-hunting permit on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Namibia.

Scientists and conservationists support the auction and hunt as crucial to the future of a long-revered African game species now threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Financial as well as biological benefits to rhino conservation efforts are at stake.

DSC expects the permit to sell for at least $250,000, perhaps up to $1 million. All proceeds will be returned to Namibia for underfunded rhino-related projects such as anti-poaching patrols.

Black rhinos are aggressive and territorial. Old, post-breeding males are known to kill younger bulls, cows and even calves. They also consume food, water and space needed to sustain the breeding animals required for species survival. Biologists call these “surplus animals” because removing them does no long-term harm to a population — and can actually help it grow.

Since 2004, with the blessing of scientists in an international body called CITES, Namibia has been authorized to sell up to five hunting permits a year. With selective hunting as a part of its comprehensive rhino conservation strategy, the country’s black rhino population has more than doubled since 1990.

“Rhino hunting permits have never been sold outside of Namibia. And they’ve never sold for more than $223,000,” DSC executive director Ben Carter said. “When conservation officials approached us about auctioning a permit on Namibia’s behalf, we were excited. We think we can help generate more funding for rhino conservation — hopefully a lot more.”

Part of DSC’s enthusiasm is based in new cooperation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which controls importation of endangered species. In 2013, for the first time, the agency approved an application to import a hunted black rhino from Namibia. Federal biologists agreed it was an old, post-breeding, surplus bull. A Colorado hunter was allowed to bring his trophy home.

This precedent should help drive a record price for the permit to be auctioned by DSC.

But any fundraising records will have to be posted in the face of opponents working to lower auction proceeds — if not eliminate science-based wildlife management altogether.

Who are the hostiles?

“Animal rights extremists. Anti-hunters. Radical environmentalists who would rather see rhinos go extinct ‘naturally’ than be managed in any way by man — particularly if hunting is involved,” Carter said. “Opposition also could be coming from the poachers, black-market traffickers, terrorist cells and organized crime syndicates who profit from rhino poaching. They stand to lose out if this auction generates major funding for additional law enforcement.”

When DSC announced its auction in mid-October, media hysteria went viral. Death threats began to flow via email, phone calls, even Facebook posts. Hundreds were received.

A few samples:

“If this happens, Ben’s kids are dead.” — (name withheld)

“You subhuman rednecks have something to worry about now. For every rhino you shoot, we’ll kill 10 of your members, or their families if we can’t get at them. We have your membership list. It’s open season on you murderers now. There’s no place to hide.” — (name withheld)

“Do you want to be hunted? Change your plan or face the consequences.” — (name withheld)

“The winner of this hunt will find himself in the crosshairs.” — (name withheld)

“You all deserve to die.” — (name withheld)

DSC stopped giving media interviews until prudent security measures were in place. Dallas police were consulted, as was the FBI, which referred the case to a domestic terrorism team. Additional security also was hired for the DSC convention and expo, where the auction will be held Jan. 9-12 at the Dallas Convention Center and Omni Hotel Dallas.

“We expected our announcement to surprise some people, but we didn’t anticipate that level of hate,” Carter said. “People who see themselves as more evolved, and as beacons of compassion, were threatening to kill my children.”

The good news, he adds, is that most people are rational and quickly change their minds about the rhino auction and hunt once they understand the facts.

Supportive letters and statements from rhino experts are posted at the URL below.

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